Like with most great things we see on the screen, M*A*S*H first began as a book in 1968. H. Richard Hornberger was a surgeon with the 8055th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Using the pen name Richard Hooker and with the collaboration of W.C.Heinz, Hornberger wrote a book about three surgeons in the Korean War. Two years later, it was developed into a film by Robert Altman and after a further two years it became a TV series featuring 11 seasons, developed by Larry Gelbart.
M*A*S*H was considered to be a war comedy or dark comedy. The creators had to be careful in the beginning because the war in Vietnam was still going on and Americans may not have appreciated a comedy based on war.
The show won numerous awards and 35 years ago today, more people sat down to watch the finale than any other series. Here are a few facts that won’t get you told off by Captain Hawkeye!
1. The Korean War Didn’t Last 11 Years
The Korean War began on June 25th 1950 and ended on July 27th 1953 whereas the series lasted 11 years. Perhaps considering each episode was only 25 minutes long they needed longer to tell the tales of the Army doctors and nurses.
2. The Record-Breaking Series Finale
More than 100 million people watched the last episode of M*A*S*H. It was the most watched series finale in history and also the most watched TV show of all kinds until the Superbowl in 2010. More than 77% of the US tuned in to say goodbye!
3. Original Ways Of Finding Cast Names
It would be difficult to spot this unless you were really paying attention but in season 6, four Marines in hospital were named after players from the Los Angeles Angels. Season 7 got its naming inspiration from the L.A Dodgers. Even Radar’s girlfriend got her name from one of Levine’s partners.
4. Numerous Spinoffs
There was Trapper John M.D, which was on screens from 1979 to 1986, based on the chief of surgery in San Francisco. The show followed on from the events of M*A*S*H but set in a veteran’s hospital. It was cancelled after the second season because the A-Team was more popular. The pilot episode of W*A*L*T*E*R was aired. The series about Radar becoming a cop was only shown once.
5. Finding The Actor For Trapper John
McLean Stevenson originally went for the part of Hawkeye but was convinced to take the role of Lt. Colonel Henry Blake. Robert Klein, a comedian, rejected the part of Trapper John but would never admit to this mistake and it didn’t seem to affect the success of his career!
6. The Lost And Found Teddy Bear
Radar’s teddy bear disappeared for 30 years until it found its way to an auction in 2005. It was sold to a medical student for $11,500 and then sold back to Burghoff. The unnamed bear lives on in Sesame Street; Big Bird’s bear is named Radar!
7. Actors Who Actually Served In The Army
Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye, severed in Korea for 6 months in the Army Reserves. Farr was also in Korea but not before he was stationed in Japan. Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper, was a ship navigator in the U.S Navy and Farell (B.J. Hunnicut) enlisted in the Marine Corps. Their experience certainly helped their roles in M*A*S*H.
8. The Pilot Episode Was Written In 2 Days
Larry Gelbart had become fed up with the Hollywood scene and decided on a change of scenery in London. But when the chance came to write the adaptation of Robert Altmans’ film he jumped at it. Gelbart made $25,000 in just two days for episode 1!
9. The Multiple Talents Of Alan Alda
Not only did Alda play the role of Hawkeye but he also co-wrote 13 episodes and directed 31 episodes. He won a total of 14 awards for M*A*S*H and nobody had ever received an Emmy for acting in, directing and writing the same show before Alda.
10. Friendships that last a lifetime
Loretta Swit played Major Margaret Houlihan. When you work with people for so many years it is normal to become close. It is said that The Major and the Colonel (Harry Morgan) were neighbors after the show until Morgan died. Alda and Swift are still close today. Swit has been incredibly successful career in both films and TV.
11. The Smart Way To Resolve Viewer Complaints
There are always going to be the super-fans who want to spot the mistakes, even in the best written scripts! Kev Levine, along with other writers were getting a bit annoyed with people nit picking so they changed the script twice, insisting the actors wore winter clothes on a 100 degree day! Complaints soon stopped.
12. Opening The Door Of Opportunities For Many Actors
Some of the most noticeable actors who started on M*A*S*H are Ron Howard (an underage Marine), Shelly Long went on to star in Cheers, Patrick Swayze was an injured soldier, Jeffrey Taylor played Major Redddish and Pat Morita followed M*A*S*H with The Karate Kid. Other actors include George Wendt, Rita Wilson…we could go on!
13. Klinger And His Wedding Dress
The now infamous Klinger’s wedding dress was worn only three times. The first time it was worn by Klinger himself when he married Laverne Esposito. The second time the wedding dress was worn by Margaret Houlihan when she married Lt. Col. Donald Penobscott. Finally, the last time the wedding dress has been worn was by Soon Lee, when she married Klinger.
14. Wayne Rogers Didn’t Have A Contract
Rogers left the show after 3 seasons but the show couldn’t bring a lawsuit against him because he had never signed a contract, disagreeing with the morals clause. Rogers never resented leaving the show but he did admit to missing his friends from the cast, most of all Alda.
15. Canning The Canned Laughter
Despite its major theme was war, M*A*S*H was still a comedy and the laugh track needed to be added. Gelbart and Reynolds were not in favor of the canned laughter. They managed to come to an agreement by removing the laughter from operating scenes and over time completely removing it. Meanwhile in the U.K, the BBC laugh track was completely excluded.
16. Only Alda Received The Full Script For The Final Scene Of “Abyssina”
The season finale was made even more dramatic and emotional when Gelbart and Reynolds gave out the script without the last page. All the scenes were filmed. Everyone was amazed at the brilliance of this last page killing off Stevenson’s character and making a point about the wastefulness of war. Over 1000 people wrote to Gelbart and Renolds expressing their upset.
17. Just One Episode For Jamie Farr
Originally it was planned for Farr to be in just one episode as the gay character Klinger. Instead, his part was extended and his character was converted into a heterosexual cross-dresser in the hope of being sent home from Korea.
18. CBS Standing Up For Patriotism
We have heard of various real ploys in order for a soldier to be sent home from war. There was a planned episode of the men waiting in the cold so they could get sick enough to go home but CBS refused to air the episode.
19. The Finale Statistics
“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” was aired on Monday 28th, 1983. The two and a half hour long episode was watched by a total of 126.1 million people. If you wanted to run your advert during M*A*S*H in 1972 it would have cost you $30,000. The same 30 second spot for the very last episode cost $450,000.
20. The Time Capsule That Was Begrudgingly Found
In the second to last episode, the characters fill their time capsule with treasures and bury it under Fox Ranch. A construction worker found it not long after and when Alda told him he could keep it, he didn’t seem all to pleased.